MP proposes landmark new social care law

Carers UK has joined forces with Barbara Keeley MP and a cross party group of MPs to work on a new piece of legislation to improve the supply of social care and help identify hidden carers.

 Barbara Keeley MP, a long-term advocate for carers, secured a spot in the parliamentary calendar for a ‘Private Member’s Bill’ – a piece of legislation proposed by a backbench MP rather than the Government – and chose to use the opportunity to champion carers.

The bill, the Social Care (Local Sufficiency) and Identification of Carers Bill, aims to;

  • revolutionise the way that local authorities plan social care services in their areas for people who by services themselves as well as those who rely on council social care services.
  • focus on ensuring the right services are planned and developed to help carers struggling to juggle work and caring for ill or disabled loved ones
  • create duties on the NHS, schools, colleges and universities to identify carers and signpost then to support and advice.

‘Sufficiency of supply’ – improving the supply of care services

The bill places a duty on local authorities to conduct an assessment of the social care services available in their area, looking at whether sufficient and relevant care is being made available to people with disabilities and carers.

The proposed legislation will recognise for the first time the need for carers and people with disabilities to have the right services in place to allow them to remain in, or join the workforce.  Local authorities currently have the same important role to ensure childcare is there to help parents work, and this new Bill would begin to develop this role for councils in social care.

Currently an estimated 1 in 6 people is forced to give up work to care. Given the demographic trends where a shrinking workforce is being asked to work longer to meet growing care and pensions bills, this is clearly unsustainable.

Significant proportions of disabled people feel they can work and analysis in 2010 found that supporting social care users to access paid employment could generate earnings of up to £800 million each year, a reduction in benefits spending of £300 million (as well as extra income from tax and National Insurance). Research last month from Age UK showed that the cost to the Government of carers being forced to give up work to care had reached £5.3 billion in lost tax revenues, lost earnings and increased benefit payments.

The Bill reflects the economic imperative to help people juggle work and care and to support people with disabilities to work. Similar legal provisions around ‘sufficiency’ for childcare, introduced in 2006, helped stimulate growth in childcare services and Carers UK has argued that these duties for social care could help ensure families get the support they need.

Identifying hidden carers

We know that carers often take a long time to identify themselves as carers. Carers UK found that 25% of carers took 5 years or more to recognise themselves as a carer and each year about 2.2 million people start caring and a similar proportion cease caring.

By placing duties on health and education bodies, the Bill would speed up the identification of carers and allow help and support to be made available earlier.

Turning the Bill into law

Taking legislation from backbench MPs through Parliament is always challenging but Carers UK has a great track record.  We have successfully brought three Private Members Bills through the UK Parliament. Out of this work came new rights for carers to have their needs assessed, enshrining in law the principle that carers should have a life of their own in the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004.

Barbara Keeley’s Bill is the next step in winning additional support for carers and disabled people and Carers UK will be using our expertise and working hard to build support for the legislation and get it on the statute book.

Emily Holzhausen, Director of Policy at Carers UK said;

“This is a fantastic opportunity to make a difference to the lives of carers and disabled people. Every day we hear about carers who’ve been struggling to care for their families, not knowing what support is available to them – new duties on health bodies, schools and other educations institutions to identify carers will enable them to get help earlier.

Barbara Keeley’s Bill could also bring about a revolution in the way councils plan and commission social care services – for the first time looking at whether families have enough access to care, particularly the support they need to juggle work and care.

It is always tough to win Private Member’s Bills and we really need the support of carers, local groups and national partners to help make the case to Government.”

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